Thurrock Firefighters could be facing strike action as Essex Fire and Rescue Service push forward plans to make changes across the service. Chief Fire Officer David Johnson has urged the FBU not to “sleepwalk into a disaster” by calling for firefighters to take strike action.
CFO Johnson has accused union officials of being “totally irresponsible” in their efforts to persuade Essex firefighters to take industrial action. Local union officials are canvassing their members for support using spurious claims and misinformation, he says.
Faced with having to find major efficiencies, CFO Johnson says industrial action will not alter the current economic climate and the challenge ECFRS is facing. “I am focused on protecting the jobs and way of life of Essex firefighters, trying to protect a shift system that is important to them, while delivering savings that have to be made.
“All that strike action will bring is financial hardship for our firefighters.
“In Essex, we are looking at changes that 75 per cent of other UK fire and rescue services have already implemented.
“I believe that our firefighters are more in touch with the reality of the economic situation than the FBU leadership gives them credit for and I am sure they, like everyone else in our communities, understands that Essex is not immune to the impact of the credit crunch. The time has come for the union to stop burying its head in the sand and work with us for the future of the Service, its employees and the communities we are here to protect.
“With the current pressures on spending, nothing is sacrosanct – the plain fact is, we have got to find ways of using our existing resources to do more.
“I have already gone on record to say that I believe we can make the savings we need to without making any compulsory redundancies and without changing the current shift system which our firefighters have built their lives around and are keen to protect.
“But to do that, it means we all need to pull together in this difficult climate, face difficult decisions together and work through them. That’s the reality,
“The basis for the current ballot is an argument that ECFRS plans to cut a number of frontline appliances, change conditions of service for its firefighters and that efficiency savings will put firefighters’ lives at risk.
“The fact is, we are not seeking to change conditions of service and the safety of our frontline crews is, and will remain a primary consideration for me. To suggest otherwise undermines the competency and experience of a great many of our incident commanders who the union purports to represent.
“There are tough times ahead and we are going to have to change some of the things that we have always done, particularly in relation to crewing arrangements, but this is being done in full consultation with all sectors of our workforce.
“Firefighters in Essex are more involved in helping us to shape the future than ever before. They are an exceptional team of people doing an exceptional job and it is outrageous that they are being misled by the FBU into a situation that can have no winners.
“We are not preparing to close stations, we are not cutting the number of frontline machines, we are not cutting jobs – all we are doing is facing the reality of the economic situation that confronts all public sector organisations. The will of our workforce will carry us through and the reputation the Fire Service has for it’s ‘can do’ attitude.
“A handful of militant union officials who are trying to protect a reputation for being a hard-line branch of the FBU will undermine all of the work we have done over the last four years to maintain our status as one of the best fire and rescue services in the country. They are not undermining management, they are undermining the members they say they represent.
“The facts speak for themselves – but the FBU seems blind to the fact that we are investing millions into our front line operational capability at a time when other industries and organisations are having to cut back, lay off staff and even going out of business.”
Yourthurrock will hope to speak to the union this week to get their side of the story.